Cryptococcal meningitis : a deadly fungal disease among people living with HIV/AIDS
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Cryptococcal meningitis : a deadly fungal disease among people living with HIV/AIDS

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      Cryptococcus is a fungus that is found in the soil throughout the world. Because Cryptococcus is common in the environment, most people probably breathe in small amounts of microscopic, airborne spores every day. Sometimes these spores cause symptoms of a respiratory infection, but other times there are no symptoms at all. In healthy people, the fungus usually does not cause serious illness because the immune system can fight off the infection. However, in people with weakened immune systems, such as people with HIV/AIDS, the fungus can stay hidden in the body and later reactivate, spreading to other parts of the body and causing serious disease.

      An infection with the fungus Cryptococcus is known as cryptococcosis, and it is a serious opportunistic infection among people with advanced HIV/AIDS. Cryptococcosis is not contagious, meaning it cannot spread from person-to-person. Cryptococcal meningitis specifically occurs after Cryptococcus has spread from the lungs to the brain. Meningitis can also be caused by a variety of other organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and other fungi.

      Worldwide, approximately 1 million new cases of cryptococcal meningitis occur each year, resulting in 625,000 deaths. Most cases are opportunistic infections that occur among people with HIV/AIDS. Although the widespread availability of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in developed countries has helped reduce cryptococcal infections in these areas, it is still a major problem in developing countries where access to healthcare is limited. Throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, Cryptococcus is now the most common cause of adult meningitis. Cryptococcal meningitis is one of the leading causes of death in HIV/AIDS patients; in sub-Saharan Africa, it may kill as many people each year as tuberculosis.


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